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August 22, 2008


Jeanne Damoff

Well said, Mark. (You do tend to say things well I've noticed.)

One editorial note: you flip-flopped "former" and "latter" (or "ethical" and "unethical"--take your pick) in paragraph five. Your points are so well articulated, no one will mistake your intention, but thought you might like a heads up. :)

Happy Birthday! What a coincidence. I still feel thirty-seven, too. And at thirty-seven, I still felt twenty-one, which I suppose means I still feel twenty-one. Self-image doesn't lie. It just loves fiction.

J. Mark Bertrand

Perhaps it was a Freudian slip -- or perhaps I really do think mendacious sermons are A-OK while writing fiction is reprehensible, in which case self-loathing is the order of the day. Or maybe I should just fix my typo. (I did.)

Thanks for the birthday wishes. I woke up this morning feeling fifty-eight, so the years seem to have caught up with me. :)


Well spoken, Mark. Happy Birthday! (You're just a puppy.) I'm so far into fiction that I can't wrap my head around suggesting what is borne of imagination is a "lie". Somehow, as you concluded in your final comments, fiction, and even acting, come from an innate truth exposed in imagination.

Madison Richards

"In what sense is anything he just made up just made up? If our creativity, our storytelling, follows after (in its implausible, imitative way) his creativity -- if we are, to paraphrase Dorothy Sayers, creative in his image -- I can't help musing on the state of what the divine imagination posits (how unreal can it really be?), or puzzling over the residual life of whatever we conjure ourselves."

Creative in his image...true enough! For some reason we're always hesitant to give God the credit due for everything 'we' create. Silly humans... This residual life you speak of is resident in the breath of God that's been breathed over it.

Nathan Knapp

Happy birthday, Mark!


"We don't want to be lied to unless we do. And when we do, behind the lies, we want the truth, or at least some part of it, not just to justify the pleasure but to hallow it."

Good point, I think.

Although I think sometimes the game can be enough--in which case literature "teaches" only in as much as it provides opportunities to build up our brains.

Also, your Bayard example was interesting. I think that one of the keys behind lying in literature is the social contract. Is it perhaps true that the ideal author would only lie with his initial premise ("the events of this story is true," "this is a world in which people can wake up turned into cockroaches," etc.) or in ways that he expects the truly clever reader to catch him?

Would your reaction to Maynard be different if not he but someone else had pointed out those discrepancies?

J. Mark Bertrand

"Would your reaction to Maynard be different if not he but someone else had pointed out those discrepancies?"

It's Bayard. :) The one you're talking about was the bearer of the Holy Hand Grenade, and my reaction to him was entirely different! But to the point: there's no question part of the pleasure is his revelation of the way he changed the stories (and my realization that I'd missed it, in spite of underlining half the book). Finding out what he'd done after the fact wouldn't be nearly as rewarding, though I'd still think highly of the book, in spite of my dissension from its overt message of non-reading.

And I think if James Frey had explained in a coda at the end of his book that a lot of it didn't really happen like that, he'd have avoided some fuss. Within the context of the work, we don't mind the deception -- even need it -- but we don't want to be lied to outside of it.

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